A group of 19 homeowners in the 39-unit Stonegate Farms subdivision in Frederick, Md., this week charged the builder, the Ryland Group, with fraud and deceit in the sale of their homes and misrepresentation about the planned use of adjacent property.
The owners say they were told the property would remain vacant or be used for a school. Instead, a 180-unit apartment building was constructed there.
In a suit filed in Montgomery County Circuit Court, the homeowners asked for $3.8 million in punitive and compensatory damages. They contend that the values of their properties and "quality of their lives" have been lowered because of the apartment comstruction.
Joel Abramson, attorney for the Columbia-based Ryland Group, which is a major builder of medium-priced housing in the Washington area, would not comment on the charges.
The homeowners said that when they purchased their $55,000-to-$70,000 duplex homes in 1979 and 1980, they were told by Ryland sales representatives that an adjacent wooded area was school property and that there were no plans to develop it. If the land was used, they said they were told, it would be for a school. The buyers paid premiums of $500 to $1,000 for lots backing on the land.
But a year ago, shortly after the last house in the subdivision was sold, "bulldozers moved in the razed and the trees," and construction of a 160-unit apartment complex was begun by another company, said Matt Campbell, head of the homeowners' group. During the year, the owners negotiated unsuccessfully with Ryland for compensation for their claims, said their lawyer, Fred Joseph.
The homeowners allege that the Ryland Group knew the wooded property did not belong to the school and also knew that it had been designated for an apartment complex. The homeowners said they repeatedly inquired about the status of the land before buying their homes and were always told that there were no plans for development.
Some of the buyers said they went to the Frederick County zoning office to check on the status of the land, but they were told the papers pertaining to it were not available. Joseph said he will attempt to find out why the records were not available during the course of the suit.
As a result of the apartment construction, there is "congestion, noise and lack of privacy" in the neighborhood and crowding in the local elementary school, Campbell said.
The suit also asks Ryland to plant a screen of trees between the homes and the apartments. Some of the three-story apartment buildings are only a few feet from the back yard property lines of the houses.